Hey there, fellow benders. Welcome back for another exciting season of the Avatar: The Last Airbender Re-Watch. Things sure have changed around here. Our esteemed colleague John Joseph Adams has gone on to greener earth temples, and from now on, Jordan and I will be alternating episodes. We hope this will provide you with a streamlined reading experience, rather than the segmented op/eds we gave you in Season One.
Here’s another piece of good news before we get started. We’re going to have an Avatar Re-Watch Giveaway! Stay tuned for details later in the post.
Episode 2.01, “The Avatar State,” has drama, humor, a great baddie of the week, and more foreshadowing than you can shake a Joss Whedon at. All that and more, after the jump.
We begin with a dream. Or is it a recap? In quick succession we see several key scenes from season one of Avatar, moments when Aang entered the Avatar State. In each of these tableaus, Aang is a meek witness, dwarfed by the Aang-in-the-Avatar-State, who attacks Aang three times. Also, notice how each tableau represents a different element—first air, then fire, and finally water.
Aang wakes aboard a Northern Water Tribe ship in a cold sweat. Quick Mini-Spoiler: Be on the look out for a similar scene at the beginning of season three, on a very different boat. Aang goes topside for a breath of fresh air, and confides in Katara. Aang is scared of the Avatar State, and therefore, scared of himself.
The next morning, we get a classic hero’s journey scene with reformed sexist jerk Master Pakku doing his best imitation of Lady Galadriel. He gives Katara an amulet with spirit water and a box of waterbending scrolls to Aang. It seems like this box of scrolls is supposed to explain why Aang and Katara both become such skilled waterbenders over the course of Season Two, without any further training from a master. It may not be obvious now, but Katara’s water amulet is super important, and plays an important role in the climax of the season. It is almost as if the writers are dangling the amulet in front of the audience’s faces, saying “See? We know exactly where this show is going.” Their foresight is commendable.
The heroes are given their episode quest. Make a stop at a military base to meet with General Fong, and then continue on to Omashu, where everyone’s favorite lunatic King Bumi will begin Aang’s training.
And then we are whisked to a river town, where Iroh is enjoying the simple life and Zuko is grumbling about his honor. Iroh tries to cheer his nephew up without much success. Note the trees in this scene—bright pink with spring blossoms. Petals float on the gentle breeze. These are all signs that the season has changed. It is now Spring, the season of Earth.
Enter Princess Azula. Except for her daddy the Fire Lord, she may be the only character in the series who is pure evil. This girl is diabolical. She lies, bullies, manipulates, and she may be the most powerful bender we have seen on the show so far. Oh yeah, and she can shoot lightning out of her fingers. But she does have one weakness we can spot right away. She’s a perfectionist.
Back to Team Aang, where the gang receives a toasty warm welcome from Earth General Fong (voiced by Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim). He wants the Avatar to use the Avatar State to crush the Fire Nation and end the war right away, before Aang masters all four elements. His reasons seem noble enough. Good people are dying every day because of the war, and Aang could stop it if he used the Avatar State. But Aang doesn’t know how to invoke the state. Fong vows to help Aang learn to summon this awesome power.
The montage that follows, where Fong and the gang attempt to trick Aang into the Avatar State, serves to lighten the mood. Sokka with the head of Momo makes me smile every time I see it. The Red Bull tea Aang drinks feels like a very grown up joke for a Nickelodeon show, a little wink to the adult fans.
No time is wasted bringing Azula to the front of the main cast. She pops up everywhere. Her plan for luring Iroh and Zuko into her clutches seems to be “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” but it feels a bit contrived in this case. If she can sneak up on Zuko and The Dragon of the West so easily, why not just, I don’t know, throw some sort of flame-retardant bags over their heads and drag them back to the ship? One interesting point, when Zuko lashes out at his uncle for casting judgments on Ozai, his description of Iroh applies pretty much word-for-word for Zuko’s relationship with Azula. Perhaps history is repeating?
Aang wakes up from another Avatar-State dream, realizing that invoking the Avatar State is probably a bad idea. He confides in Sokka, but whatever he says cannot be heard over the many fans squeeing at Sokka with his hair down.
Aang tells General Fong he has decided not to induce the Avatar State because the only way to ensure success is to put Aang or someone he cares about in actual danger. But Fong was waiting for this. He knows what it takes to induce the Avatar State, and he is willing to do it for the good of his people. Fong and his soldiers attack Aang.
But it isn’t until Fong threatens to kill Katara that Aang enters the Avatar State. For a moment, Fong rejoices in his success. But like most mad scientists, the General gets more than he bargained for. Riding a massive tornado, Aang slams the ground, releasing shockwaves that send Earth soldiers flying. Buildings in the fort are heavily damaged by the blast. This incident is so traumatic, Aang has what could be considered an out of body experience. He enters the Spirit World, where Avatar Roku delivers some much-needed exposition.
Meanwhile, Zuko sees through Azula’s ruse to lure him back to the Fire Nation, thanks to one incompetent Fire Navy officer. My guess is this guy will be joining the ranks of Admiral Ozzel and Captain Needa sooner rather than later. More foreshadowing: Iroh redirects lightning for the second time. In this instance, he grabs Azula’s hand to deflect her finishing move and blows up a whole mountain with the channeled energy.
Zuko and Iroh escape, but now they are on the run from Azula and her troops. In a poignant epilogue, the uncle and nephew cut off their top knots, symbolizing perhaps an end, a shift and loyalty, or a new beginning. What do you think?
In all, a great season premiere. The plot thickens, so to speak. And it’s only going to get thicker. But here is a question worthy of debate in the comments: the line of Avatar reincarnation goes Water, Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and so on. But Aang is the last airbender. So in four more generations, won’t the Avatar be gone for good anyway?
Now, we’re going to have a little giveaway for all our fans out there. A big thank you from us at Tor.com for supporting the Re-Watch.
Here are The Rules: To enter the giveaway, leave one comment—duplicates won’t count—on this post between now and noon EST, Monday, July 26. The winner will be chosen randomly. The giveaway is open to everyone everywhere. Please check your email Tuesday or Wednesday; if we don’t hear back from you by noon on Thursday, your prize will go to someone else.
And what’s the prize? This sweet Appa Plush. Behold its cuteness.
Attention First-Time Avatar Watchers: Our posts will be spoiler-free (except for the episode we’re discussing), but be aware that spoilers for future episodes may abound in the comment thread below. We wanted to keep the comment threads future-spoiler-free as well, but it will likely prove impossible and it would impede our ability to analyze the series in retrospect.
Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, as well as a columnist for Tor.com, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. His fiction is forthcoming in the anthology The Living Dead 2. He holds a BFA in Film Production from New York University.